Question from Tracey:
I would like to find out if there are some drought tolerant /native plants that will do well in pots on a patio. The patio is south facing and gets a lot of sun. I’m in the South Pasadena/ Highland Park area of Southern California.
Answer from Pat:
A few native plants can be grown in containers, such as grasses. Mexican feather grass (Nassella tennuissima), for example, native to Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico, is one of the most drought-resistant of ornamental grasses often seen mixed with other plants in containers. But in my opinion if you are looking for the most satisfying theme of drought-resistant plants for patio containers, your answer is succulents, and if you like them, also cacti. Two years ago I emptied out all my patio pots, rearranged them in attractive groups of various sizes and shapes, put broken crockery over all their drainage holes, filled them with ordinary potting soil (since it retains moisture so I would not need to water as often), and filled all these patio pots with drought-resistant succulents. I already had some of the plants growing in other parts of my garden. I purchased others at plant shows, botanical gardens, nurseries, and even at my local farmers’ market. With the help of a friend, I carefully arranged the plants to please my eye, playing the various textures and colors and shapes against each other. Then I continued to do the same thing with other potted arrangements here and there throughout my garden.
Few garden projects have given me as much pleasure as has this one or produced such delightful results. Also, once the weather cooled down in fall I stopped watering these pots altogether and told my gardener not to water them. It is now April and we still have not resumed watering. In return for no care other than picking out the occasional snail, the colors, flowers, and burgeoning growth has given us an ever-changing and totally glorious display. In summer I water once a week, if that. Though I have a gardener who comes to my garden once a week, I could go away for a week or a month at any time of year even if no one were caring for my plants, and I know these tough little performers would still be there when I got back. For ideas, see Debra Lee Baldwin’s new book “Succulent Container Gardens.”
Many of these plants can also be grown in hanging baskets. One of my long-time favorites is donkey tail (Sedum morganianum). These thrive in semi-shade, for example hanging from tree branches, as do orchid cacti (Epiphyllums). If you feed epi’s in accordance with the month-by-month instructions in my book, these flowering cacti will also reward you with a spectacular display of blooms in May of many different colors according to variety. Some have iridescent blooms, others are fragrant at night and attract sphinx moths.
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